A WORD IN SUPPORT OF POLK COUNTY'S MASS TRANSIT (UPDATED 08/13)
A few weeks ago, during one of my absences, there was a letter to the editor in the Lakeland Ledger questioning the need for a local bus system. The writer claims that when he drove down Florida Avenue he would often see near-empty buses and crowed that most people favour being able to get behind the wheel of their vehicle and go where they wanted, whenever they wanted to.
Uninformed people such as this literally scare me. The simple truth is that, while many people prefer to be able to go where and when they want, there are a number of Polk Countians that cannot. Among these are men and women unable to drive for medical or other reasons, but are still able to work and be a full member of the community. There are also a growing number of people who simply find it more economical to use the local bus systems due to the high cost of fuel, some slight inconvenience aside.
The writer apparantly does not notice many of the buses during the early morning and afternoon drive times. I happen to be one of those people who depend on the Citrus Connection to get around town, as my epiltetic condition prevents me from driving (I couldn't afford the car payments and insurance, much less fuel). When I head to and from work during the week, often the bus is more than half full. And there are usually a good sized queue of people at the downtown Lakeland terminal much of the day making their way to doctors' appointments, grocery shopping, work, and other activities.
Is the Citrus Connection/Winter Haven Area Transit a perfect system? By no means. There are some areas in which the system can be improved, especially in the area of customer service by some drivers and supervisors. They could also work on better on-time performance, a challenge which will be increased once the new CSX rail centre is built near Winter Haven. Once these issues are resolved, the soon-to-be countywide mass transit leadership body should look at working with Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit on setting up an agreement where riders from each system can transfer to the other's buses.
While there are many who have asked about later operation hours, I can't presently see that as a realistic move. Even after a countywide mass transit system is in place, the fact is that Polk County simply does not have the population base --- and therefore the tax base --- to support expanded operation into the night. Maybe a Saturday schedule to match weekdays would work first (Currently Saturday operation begins one hour later, and ends one hour earlier, than weekdays).
The bottom line is that thousands of Polk Countians depend on the Citrus Connection, Winter Haven Area Transit, and Polk County Transportation Services. It is a generally inexpensive way to get across town or across the county (much of it, anyway). Mass transit deserves everyone's support.
UPDATE: You can show your support and present your ideas for the future of mass transit in Polk County during one of two meetings organized by the Polk County Transportation Planning Organization. The first will be held Tuesday, 14 August in the City Commission conference room of Lakeland City Hall, 228 South Massachusetts Avenue. The second will be Monday, 20 August in the meeting room of the Winter Haven Public Library, 325 Avenue A, Northwest.